Top 10 Igbo Business Moguls Shaping Nigeria’s Economy

Girded with high risk appetite and shod with innate self-sustaining entrepreneurship, Igbo businessmen and women have risen from ground zero leveling by the civil war to commanding heights in Nigeria’s business space. Without any form of government support, the entrepreneurs from the south-east have established a strong hold on the Nigerian economy.

They have built large business empires in the core sectors of the economy and they are continuously giving birth to massive small and medium enterprises that defy community hostility to thrive in every corner of the Nigerian economic society. Igbo entrepreneurial activities have blossomed to the level of being designated a backbone of Nigeria’s economy.

Messrs. Orugun, J. Johnson and Nafiu, A. Tunde investigated the place of Igbo businesses in Nigeria’s economic growth and development in 2014 and found that “the Igbo entrepreneurial activities are the panacea for the Nigerian economic growth and development and that ITAS [Igbo Trade Apprenticeship System] is a business success factor.” The study recommended that Nigerians and the people of other developing countries should copy the Igbo entrepreneurship culture for economic development purpose.

Ruling the Investment Arena

It is not just recovery for the Igbo businessmen; it is overtaking in many business fronts. According to S. Maliga, research result by an independent body shows that Igbo entrepreneurs dominate investments in almost every Nigerian city. Back in 2013, Igbo investments in Lagos were estimated to be in the region of N300 trillion, according to C. Udegbe and double that figure in Abuja. In Kano and Kaduna, Igbo investments were estimated at N10 trillion each, N5 trillion each in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States and over N15 trillion in Plateau State. 

In his study – the Igbo entrepreneur in the political economy of Nigeria, Mr. Olanrewaju Olutayo found that compared to the other major ethnic groups in Nigeria, the Igbo are in the forefront of entrepreneurial activities, especially in the informal sector. Their enterprise usually takes the form of building business hubs and specialist market centres of national and international scales. The concept is that at any scale of operation, business has to be big enough to appeal to the consumer and sufficiently concentrated to establish a competitive edge.

A Different Attitude to Risk

Olutayo also found that unique traits of the Igbo entrepreneur are courage, perseverance and determination with which he carries on in spite of bad experiences that may come his way. This in-group survivalist mindset is identified as the key factor in the entirely self-help recovery and rise of Igbo businesses in the post-civil war Nigeria.

There is a strong will in the Igbo man to be the best at what he does and to press on to accomplish his life’s ambitions from whatever his hands find to do. He is bred on a conservative principle of ‘expect no help from no one’, as his proverb says a kinsman does not give his fellow a she goat that delivers twins. More than that, he is wary that his personal effort will still face attacks by opposing people, structures and systems.

The Igbo entrepreneur steps into the business world hoping for the best but mindful of the worst scenario. He therefore operates as sheep in the midst of wolves; wise as serpent and on alert to snatch a business opportunity. This happens at micro and macro levels to the extent that a child apprentice reckons with the worst that his master might refuse to set him up at the end of his training.

Solo Missions in the Business Space

Relying on self-help, they also build self-enterprises. This solo approach to business has its drawbacks in that prospering businesses often die with their founders. Igbos have built big businesses in transportation, construction, industry, contracting, real estate as well as commerce but many of these empires crumbled as soon as the proprietors passed on.

This contradicts the global trend where many family businesses have become publicly owned enterprises. Mr. Uche Nwora, managing director of Anambra Broadcasting Service, attributes this to lack of succession planning, as the practice is usually to transfer control to the eldest son, who may be the least competent. Other siblings are culturally sidelined, which in modern times, has given rise to long drawn litigations.  

The Igbo entrepreneur generally does not have the spirit of joint business or public enterprise, as ‘everyone is on his own and God for us all’. The dogged determination of the Igbo man, the tenacity and high risk appetite that takes him to virtually every community on earth are all driven by the consciousness of ‘someone on his own’ and yet with a dogged will to live.

Money – the Igbo Man’s Defense

Self-dependence requires a good defence – which the Igbo businessman finds in money. If he can command money, he can secure his future. This explains the common saying that the most effective way to affirm whether the Igbo man is dead is to let money sound over his ears.

A young Igbo boy under apprenticeship may not know the answer if you ask him to multiply ordinary numbers but not when the numbers are in naira. The Igbo apprenticeship scheme is a traditional college of mechanics of business and the language is spoken in money and goods. There is hardly any big Igbo businessman of today that didn’t go through the mentorship scheme.

Unwanted Yet Needed

The Igbo man will seek to build monetary defences in the worst forms of community hostility he might find himself. This resilience in self-preservation has unwittingly made a typical Igbo businessman an object of envy, feared for his domineering potentials and resented for being relevant though unwanted. You didn’t invite him but here he comes bringing what you need; you don’t like him but you have need of the solutions he offers.

Way back in 1985, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, a renowned constitutional lawyer, highlighted how intense is the fear and resentment to the extent that Ndigbo have been sidelined in the nation’s political space. Yet the power they lack in the political corridor, they are amassing in the business arena. Time will tell which will outlive the other – political power or economic hegemony!

.C.Agazie, in his 2012 analysis of why the Igbo are Nigeria’s chosen tribe said, “remove the Igbo from the country and Nigeria will collapse like a flimsy deck of cards”. Lauding Igbo business activities in Benue State, former governor of the state, Mr. Gabriel Suswan declared that any state government that ignores the Igbo people does so at the risk of its economy.

Johnson and Tunde agree with Olutayo that a major explanation for faltering development in Nigeria and other African countries is that the Igbo have not been given enough chance to participate in the development  process. Introduction of entrepreneurship education in schools in Africa has continued to be a key recommendation of every empirical study of the Igbo apprenticeship scheme.

In the course of this work, the editors of Top 10 Magazine, put on the goggles of a master craftsman and combed with minute attention the length and breadth of the Igbo business world with stunning results. It is an established fact that wealth is more evenly spread in the south-east than hardly anywhere else in Africa. The editors affirmed this truth equally in businesses.

It was found that top 10 business names from the region still rank quite closely with the top 20 – which again aren’t significantly distanced from the top 30 and so on. This is to the extent that a review of top 100 Igbo businesses or more will still be a chronicle of great success stories.

And so the top 10 Igbo businesses present who is who of business super powers. These are the big of the biggest business moguls; men of timber and caliber that keep Nigeria’s economic engines firing and the wheel of commerce streaming. They are the big masquerades that rule their respective territories from the commanding heights, exerting the biggest impacts on the nation’s economy unnoticed.